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Parshat Bereishit describes the creation of the world. We read about what was created on each of the six days of creation, and the seventh day, blessed by God as a day of rest. We then read the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and how, tempted by the serpent, they break God's instruction and are expelled from Eden. Adam and Eve give birth to Cain and Abel, and when Abel's offering to God is accepted but Cain's is not, Cain kills Abel. The parsha concludes by charting the ten generations between Adam and Noah.

Another voice

Bereishit by Anat Hoffman :: 5768

Anat Hoffman became Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center in April 2002. Previously, she served as a Jerusalem City Councilwoman for 14 years.

I know why they asked me, the Israeli who deals with religious pluralism, to write about Parashet Bereshit for Limmud. I know chaos from up close (TOHU VA'VOHU) because Israel can be a place of pandemonium, unruliness, and disorder. Our conflicts are extremely acute and harmony is moving away from us. This is the world described in Bereshit: the earth being unformed and void, the darkness over the surface of the deep.

Through a process of distinguishing matter from matter and through naming, a world which has order and has light is formed. I see my work in the evolution of the state as bringing more light. In the young state of Israel, still only 60 years since its birth, there are many opportunities for creation in an environment filled with turmoil and confusion. One sphere of inspired success for Israel is the renewed Hebrew language. Hebrew words for concepts like integrity, accountability and pluralism are truly an act of creation in this evolving society. Just as in Bereshit, where each creation is named to crystallize its existence, so too do these concepts need Hebrew names in order to be fully manifest in modern Israel. A society that has no word for integrity is a society in which this concept is not embedded in its everyday life. By the way, the Hebrew word for integrity is 'yoshra' from the root 'yud' 'shin' 'reish' - being a new word, not so many Israelis know it. The Hebrew word for accountability was also created only recently. It's hard to pronounce it without accidentally spitting on the person next to you, so people only use it when there is no other option. Achrayutiu - try and you will see. The word pluralism still doesn't exist in Modern Hebrew. I run the Center for Jewish Pluralism. In Israel the enlightened concept of pluralism hasn't yet fully manifested, but we hope to pull it out of the bubbling cosmic soup of creation and give the country a heaping dose.

There are daily battles in courts, parliament, on the street and in the media about religious pluralism. In the "formal" Israel there is only one way to be Jewish and it is the Orthodox way. The young Israeli palate knows only one flavor and it doesn't appeal to many Israelis, causing them to turn away from Judaism. The result is degeneration of the palate and degeneration of the religion. The struggle for freedom of religion in Israel demands that there will be more than one way to be Jewish and religious in Israel.

"We are not different from each other because some of us have seen the light and some are in the darkness," writes Amos Oz, "we are different because we have many lights within us, abundance of lights and tones/shades." The infusion of Jewish pluralism into Israeli society will create thousands more lights and the opportunity to visit the infinite heavens of the Jewish experience and intellect, the opportunity to dive into the chaos, learn how to give things their Hebrew names, and so be a part of creation.

At Limmud I bathed in the luminescent diversity of Jewish choices available, from the theatre workshop "Elijah the First action Hero" to "Yes Bubeleh, There Is Really Jewish Meditation"; I joined big groups of people huddled in winter coats that are worn only by Olim from Russia in Israel; and every two hours we went to a place of warmth and light, a place of Limmud.

Limmud enables Jews of all of all flavors and shades to gather in an atmosphere of Jewish unity- everybody against the horrible menu of cardboard and sawdust born from combining the English kitchen with Glatt Kosher. I want to suggest that the word pluralism in Hebrew is Limmud in the original Clive laughter sense - a delicatessen for the Jewish soul, a Club Med for the Jewish intellect, and a Disneyland of Jewish experiences.


More by Anat Hoffman

Another voice by Eliot Kaye

Eliot Kaye co-chaired Limmud Conference 2003 and then served on the Limmud Executive for three years. He co-founded and is a current trustee of Alei Tzion, a new modern-orthodox community in Hendon. Eliot learned at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat, Israel and is an investment banker with Shore Capital.

In his very first comment on the Torah (on Bereishit 1:1), Rashi quotes Rabbi Yitzchak who explains why the Torah, which is a book of laws, begins with Bereishit and not with the first mitzvot and halachic texts given to the Jewish People in Parshat Bo. He says that if the nations of the world will accuse us of stealing the Land of Israel from others who have occupied it through the generations, we will be able to point to the events in the historical portions of the Torah and see that God takes land from whom He chooses and gives it to whom He chooses.

But what happens if the nations of the world do not accept the lessons of the Torah? Let's say that they reject the point that Rashi makes. Perhaps, they are not the ones who need convincing.

We are the ones who need to see in the Torah that God is in control. This goes for Jews who feel that we are usurpers in the Land of Israel, and this goes for proud Jews who feel that they have accomplished everything there without the help of God and without His blessing. Whether the nations of the world accept what we claim from the Torah is one thing. Do we, the Jewish People, really believe that this Land is ours?


More by Eliot Kaye

Other Divrei Torah on Bereishit

  • 5766 (Shulamit Reinharz)
  • 5766 (Helena Miller)
  • 5767 (Raymond Simonson)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (Michael Wegier)
  • 5769 (Naomi Soetendorp)
  • 5770 (Raymond Simonson)
  • 5770 (Amanda Lee)
  • 5771 (Jeremy Rosen)
  • 5771 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5772 (Elaine Robinson)
  • 5772 (Adele Stowe-Lindner)
  • 5773 (Jeremy Tabick)
  • 5773 (Shlomit Naor)
  • 5774 (Raymond Simonson)
  • 5775 (Benji Stanley)
  • 5775 (Beth Steinberg)